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Perception of emotion in conversational speech by younger and older listeners

Schmidt, J., Janse, E., & Scharenborg, O. (2016). Perception of emotion in conversational speech by younger and older listeners. Frontiers in Psychology, 7: 781. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00781.
This study investigated whether age and/or differences in hearing sensitivity influence the perception of the emotion dimensions arousal (calm vs. aroused) and valence (positive vs. negative attitude) in conversational speech. To that end, this study specifically focused on the relationship between participants' ratings of short affective utterances and the utterances' acoustic parameters (pitch, intensity, and articulation rate) known to be associated with the emotion dimensions arousal and valence. Stimuli consisted of short utterances taken from a corpus of conversational speech. In two rating tasks, younger and older adults either rated arousal or valence using a 5-point scale. Mean intensity was found to be the main cue participants used in the arousal task (i.e., higher mean intensity cueing higher levels of arousal) while mean F-0 was the main cue in the valence task (i.e., higher mean F-0 being interpreted as more negative). Even though there were no overall age group differences in arousal or valence ratings, compared to younger adults, older adults responded less strongly to mean intensity differences cueing arousal and responded more strongly to differences in mean F-0 cueing valence. Individual hearing sensitivity among the older adults did not modify the use of mean intensity as an arousal cue. However, individual hearing sensitivity generally affected valence ratings and modified the use of mean F-0. We conclude that age differences in the interpretation of mean F-0 as a cue for valence are likely due to age-related hearing loss, whereas age differences in rating arousal do not seem to be driven by hearing sensitivity differences between age groups (as measured by pure-tone audiometry).
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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